Eisenhorn: Xenos (Preview)
Eisenhorn: Xenos is a video game adaptation of Dan Abnett’s novel which goes by the same name. It features an Inquisitor of the Imperium of Man whose job is to root out all forms of heretical and extra-terrestrial influence on the human empire. The world that the game’s protagonist, Eisenhorn, lives in is an unforgiving one, where humans live short life-spans and where some are even sacrificed in droves to keep their near-dead god alive. Previous game developers might say “Space Marines can at least survive their first fight against aliens and heretics,” but not Pixel Hero Games. They have decided that a gene-enhanced superhuman is not quite as compelling as a character who is mortal and can connect with the reader/gamer.
The preview itself has definitely incorporated Abnett’s world-building and writing and it is telling that it has stuck true to its source material. Mark Strong is as great as ever, voicing the game’s anti-hero perfectly. Every time Eisenhorn spoke or the narration of Strong could be heard; you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a perfect audiobook. This did fall flat, however, whenever the supporting cast chimed in. The final boss of chapter one, Murdin Eyclone, sounded as if he was trying to do his best Scottish accent. Other companions and characters appear to follow suit, either over-selling or under-selling their performance. It is a shame that a story driven game is brought down by alack of actors being able to keep up with the only convincing voice actor, Mark Strong.
Eisenhorn: Xenos’ gameplay worked as a 3rd person, over-the-shoulder adventure to begin with and would zoom out during fights between Eisenhorn and his enemies. It felt very reminiscent of the Batman games created by Rocksteady studios. Furthermore, you are given an Auspex, a gadget which allows you to scan the local environment for data (providing great world-building and feeding more information to the player) as well as hacking terminals and doors through a timing based mini-game. Another scanning ability is the ‘Psychic Senses’ introduced in chapter two, during Stealth, which gives you X-Ray vision and allows the player to coax enemies towards Eisenhorn. Eisenhorn’s psychic abilities may be prevalent in the released version in the form of a brain mini-game towards the end of chapter two (unfortunately they didn’t feature elsewhere in the beta), hopefully there are more puzzles featured in the full game to emphasize Eisenhorn as a futuristic detective.
Combat did have some variety, relying on timing attacks between swings to lead your character into “combos” which usually ranged from pressing the same button to the odd occasion that you decide to fight with a different weapon. You can easily switch between your gun, power sword, and psyker abilities (psychic abilities) allowing for some range when fighting. At first I appreciated the timing between attacks as a means to stop the spamming of swings, in order to win easily to overcome the desire to aimlessly mash buttons, however it became more encumbered and clunky as the gameplay progressed. In the Warhammer 40k universe a power sword is capable of slicing through a Space Marine’s armour like butter, but the cultists that Eisenhorn fights are resistant to his attacks despite being equipped with one, and this underlines the cumbersome feel of the combat.
Customization options, however, such as choosing different weapons, are available within the preview. However these are limited to the Power Sword, an improved Power Sword, an Auto-Pistol, a Stub Gun and a Shotgun. It wasn’t obvious that there were emblems as an equipment option for the game, providing bonuses for combat and other game mechanics, but the game was drawing to a close before the effect of these emblems on gameplay could be evaluated. We have been promised roughly 100 weapons will be available within the released build of the game and these will not all be used by Eisenhorn as the game has a companion system. A Chastener of the Adepts Arbites (a section of Imperium society that acts as the police force) will join you over the course of the story and some of Eisenhorn’s crew members (one being Aemos) can join you as a non-combative companion that provides bonuses to hacking and assumedly other abilities as you adventure across Eisenhorn’s narrative. More characters will be provided in the release of the game, and readers of the books will likely be pleased that Eisenhorn’s supporting characters are the same within the games as they are in the novels. Eisenhorn’s party can also be accurate to the books narrative, should the player desire it.
‘Breathing Time’ is another mechanic given to the player in order to slow down combat and allows time to aim at opponents and deliver more damage. This was limited to an energy bar so that it could not be abused during combat. It is a nice touch that they provide the user with information about each opponent’s health and the damage that they are going to do to the player’s enemies. Although, this particular feature wasn’t as useful with the few enemy types available when I played, hopefully the finished game makes better use of this with more difficult enemies in later chapters.
The narrative of Eisenhorn: Xenos gives an atmosphere that befits 40k; dark and brooding. The art design is also very accurate with gothic architecture featuring all over the city, in the first chapter, and a large tesla-like artefact in Chapter 1, but it doesn’t feel like there are enough focal points which the player can marvel at. In its current form, it does seem to have some issues with the detail of the character models and their movement, notably Eisenhorn’s very stiff jog which became minorly distracting. It was quite difficult to be engrossed in the atmosphere of the game as the lighting didn’t help, although it has to be stated that visuals and animations are being finalised by Pixel Hero Games in the lead up to the release, so only a final look at the released game will tell.
At one point the cryogenic chambers that habituate a portion of the city, Hubris, open prematurely so that the members of the ruling elite trapped there experience a slow agonising death. These same people then proceed to stand aimlessly along your path and periodically reach out to “hug” you, causing a Quick Time Event to leave their embrace. This is notable, as it was hard to tell if the purpose of the inhabitants reaching out to grab you were an attempt at immersion, but given how easy the QTE could be completed only gave the impression of prolonging the segment. If the first one was meant to surprise or provide a jump-scare there wasn’t enough build up, or enough going on, to cause it to scare. If it was for immersion then it would be more appropriate for someone writhing in pain to scrape at Eisenhorn as he passes by, pleading for his help, rather than being hugged periodically, as he runs after Eyclone.
It’s great that Pixel Hero Games has given the player a sense of the scale of the Warhammer 40k universe, with certain rooms showing the sheer amount of people that the city has cryogenically frozen. How much of this is purely transferred from the descriptions of Abnett is difficult to say, having not read the books but I am itching for an audiobook of Eisenhorn read by Strong now. Nonetheless, their work in transferring it to a more visual format has to be commended.
With less than month until Pixel Hero Games release Eisenhorn:Xenos it feels that the current preview of Eisenhorn: Xenos might need a little bit longer to fully develop to compete with the behemoths of the genre. The writing, world-building and narration appear to have been adapted well from Abnett, inspiring the player to go off and read the series of books that it is based on. Eisenhorn: Xenos (the Video Game) should not feel like an advertisement for Abnett’s books but ,unfortunately, it does. I do hope that the polish that we have been promised for the final game will make 40k and even non-40k fans want to play more than the first two chapters, as Eisenhorn: Xenos is most assuredly a diamond in the rough.
Editors Note: The preview was written and carefully scrutinised by The Orcanaught, a big thanks to him for helping the site out with this one as none of us are too familiar with the 40K unisverse. When he isn’t lost in the Warhammer Universe or playing magic the Gathering he creates video content on YouTube, so be sure to check him out and subscribe.